New American Songbook

"In 20 years of listening to hip hop, its music and stories have never left me unchallenged or unchanged. Throughout its history—from Kool Herc to KRS and beyond—hip hop has told the story of America through the styles of noir, memoir, jazz and rhythm and blues, comic books and blockbuster action movies. It is everything we say we are, and those things we maintain we are not. This is the new American Songbook." - KMUW commentator, Zack Gingrich-Gaylord  

New American Songbook can be heard on alternate Mondays, or through iTunes.

  

Spring is finally here, and along with it comes one of my favorite activities: playing music really loud in my car. 

The 2016 album “Telefone” from Chicago emcee Noname opens with a song centered on her grandmother. As Noname struggles with growing fame and its attendant problems, memories of her grandmother enter the verse, grounding her in a reality that is also grounded in reality. Here, a line like "don’t grow up too soon, don’t blow the candles out, don’t let them cops get you," is encompassing in a way that nostalgia often isn’t—it’s complex and sad, wistful and heartbroken.

I’m constantly surprised by what I hear in hip hop, and not just lyrically. The other half of hip hop, the beats, is as expansive and comprehensive a music as any other, and because it’s sample-based music, it’s really hard to run out of new forms.

New American Songbook: XV Minutes of Fame

Feb 13, 2017

Donavan “XV” Johnson signed a major recording label contract with Warner Bros. Records in July 2010. The journey to become a signed artist required lots of hard work and persistence from the Wichita native who didn’t have a roadmap or blueprint to get there. As Wichita’s first solo rap artist to achieve this success, the weight was immediately placed on XV’s shoulders to put his city on the map.

To my mind, the question for 2017 is not so much what do we want, but how will we achieve what we want. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency has changed some things for some people, and has made more explicit the continued struggles of others. Racism, for instance, did not suddenly come into being on November 9 or January 20, although perhaps a renewed sense of urgency towards addressing it did.

On the latest release from hip hop duo Run the Jewels, every track is a fist, held in the air, raised in resistance, or a jaw-crushing volley thrown in service of the revolution.

Youngking11 / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

This piece originally aired on August 17, 2015.

A common critique of hip hop music is to point out the violence and vulgarity in the lyrics as a sign of its lack of quality. I’ve always found this puzzling. Americans are connoisseurs of violence. We are taste makers in this aesthetic, and we know what and where we like each particular violence.

There’s a scene in the 1997 documentary ‘Rhyme and Reason’ where the emcee Taz demonstrates how to hand someone a hat. It isn’t enough to merely give someone a hat, he explains, you have to hand it to them in a hip hop way. As he performs the difference, you can see he knows this is over the top, but you can also see there’s a part of this that’s true: there is a hip hop way to hand someone a hat, and it’s a little funkier than any other way.

The term ‘underground’ gets tossed around a lot in hip hop--usually, it seems, in an attempt to signal the superior taste of the person bringing it up. Ostensibly, an underground artist is obscure but deliberately so; slept on by mainstream audiences, and tapped into some kind of arcane but universal truth; the avant-garde.

In 1970, the poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron released "Whitey On the Moon," a scathing critique of the space race. In the poem, he describes the conditions of earthly poverty, but always invoking the gaze of the white astronaut.

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